Saturday, December 30, 2017

Yale First Building Project 2017

This building for the homeless was featured in a Wall Street Journal article on the best architecture of 2017. The building was created by the Yale School of Architecture Jim Vlock First Year Building Project. I was captivated by the second photo below and the beautiful differentiation of space. Even  1,000-square feet can seem like a palace. Here is the Journal writeup on the building:
This year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a house for the homeless
This year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a house for the homeless PHOTO: ZELIG FOK AND HAYLIE CHAN
Not every year delivers major architectural stunners, but sometimes there’s something even better—buildings that contribute to a more promising future. Since 1967, the Yale School of Architecture has required first-year students to set aside theoretical and academic course work to actually build something that benefits the community. Over the years (and depending on available funds), students in the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project have designed and built—hands-on—community centers, bandstands, park pavilions and, most recently, affordable housing. 
This year, the 50th project was completed: a 1,000-square-foot house for the homeless. Clad in cedar with a standing-seam metal roof and several window-seat-deep gables, the prefabricated structure contains one studio and a two-bedroom apartment with abundant built-in storage. Columbus House, a New Haven nonprofit organization, will identify and provide additional support for tenants.
Interior of this year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project
Interior of this year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project PHOTO: ZELIG FOK AND HAYLIE CHAN
The Building Project has always been highly commendable (and imitated at other schools), but this year’s house is particularly sophisticated and handsome—worthy of inspiring pride of place in whoever is lucky enough to dwell there.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wall of White

This white-petaled bush lines the street in a neighborhood by the lake in a cul-de-sac edging some woods. Would make a lovely backdrop for a wedding party.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Musicians of Medieval Marginalia

The word cartoon first came into existence in the beginning of the Renaissance to refer to a study in preparation for a more permanent work of art, such as a painting. Later, in the 19th century the word "cartoon" came to refer to a comic picture with satirical or exaggerated graphic features--as in today's comic books, newspaper funnies, political cartoons, and graphic novels.

However, this leaves out the marginalia of medieval prayerbooks and hymnals. Here, surrounding the image of veneration--a saint, a scene from the life of Christ and of Mary, or a scene from the Old Testament, and calendars, or surrounding the musical notations in hymnals--a rich subterranean and often comic pictorial life flourishes in the marginalia.

For example, we see below that animals are often playing music in the marginalia--forerunners to the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the Musicians of Bremen. All animals, not just the birds, it seems, had some kind of musical talent back then, even dragons (see last picture).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Day Is Done

It was a high spring day, but the reflection of the sky in the lake almost looks like a snowscape.

Fifteen minutes later and the clouds had broken up and their reflections made it look as if mist was rising from the water.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter, Everyone!

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Rembrandt van Rijns, 1863

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Lone Goose

Here is the lone goose of Lake Newport this spring. I don't know his origins or why he is still here. From about November through the first week of March, the lake was the home to a flock of Canadian geese. They squawked all day and through the night. At least once a day, they flew from the lake to the soccer fields on the side of where I live, where they ate their meals. The trip often took them over where I live, and sometimes if they flew close and low enough, you could hear the soft whish of their wings.
It seemed like a large flock of up to five or six families. When they went from one place to another, they did not all take off as one big flock though. They took off in squadrons, one after another. In the back of a group, one goose would start flapping his wings and honking loudly and then lift himself up into the air and fly off. The rest of his squadron would follow suit, and in a flash up to 20 geese would be in the air. Then after a few minutes the next squadron would go in the same way. One after another until the lake was emptied.
I loved watching them land back in the water, as they swooped down gracefully but strongly, into the water, making a beautiful splash of water to their sides.
Then one day, as the weather was warming, they were gone. A few remained. Now there seems to be only one.                                

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Turtle in Tow

I got a photo this morning after a short rain shower of the (apparent) mother turtle and her little ones. If you look closely, you can see the larger turtle with its head a bit out of the water, and right behind it, another smaller head belonging to her offspring. There are other young turtles swimming around, trying to gain her attention from time to time. I watched while this mother and her child swam around. Every time the mother stopped swimming and surfaced her head to the water, the baby would do the same right away. When the mother started swimming again, the baby did the same, right away.
I believe I saw a young turtle with a very tiny green turtle on its back, but I could not get close enough to see it clearly. Certainly looked like a baby green turtle.
Then today in this neck of the lake there was some kind of large fish -- two or more feet -- swimming right on the surface. There was a gang of them down there. I couldn't tell what they are, but hope to soon. Is there such a thing as still waters?
In the photo below the tree is a reflection in the water, but the green-leafed branches are from bushes by the lakeside. The turtles like to sun on shore along the bushes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Turtle Time

Three young turtles basking. An older turtle dipped deep into the water as soon as my dog Bea and I came on the scene, but these younger ones were unperturbed. The shiny white streaks are the sun hitting little rivulets in the water made by a breeze. Yesterday I saw a larger turtle being followed by a smaller one in the water, but I didn't have my phone with me to get a picture. Wherever the big one went, the little one went, desperate to get the big one's attention, nipping at its feet or swimming around and meeting it head on. When they are looking up and the sun hits them, the turtle eyes look like little white shiny beads.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Redbud of Virginia

If you are out in the country in northern Virginia, redbud is everywhere, lining the roads and highways and edges of the woods. Such a beautiful tree, with its bright pink tiny flowers crawling up its branches. It does not take kindly to cutting and looks limp in a vase and won't last. The tree can stand tall and proud, sending its splays of pink out into the sky in more tame settings or, since it proliferates and always bends toward the sun out of the trees around it, the pink just peeks out.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Peeking Out

Everything is astir again. The first butterfly of the season. The turtles have returned to the lake nearby, with their baby turtles. The little flowers and greenery are peeking out from the dried up leaves of last autumn. We haven't seen or heard the fox though in a month. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Fragrance of Spring

Yesterday, as I was walking my dog (see above), I noticed a row of bushes with these gorgeous flowers, kind of white, pink, and red. I don't know what this flower is, but the smell was exquisite.
Today, after spring rains, the weather warmed and you could smell the earth again, at long last after the hardened soil of the winter. Is there any smell sweeter than spring earth after rain when the ground and trees are alive with green again? All these gifts.  The flowers were turning into berries, making them white and red, reading pink, with heady, heavy perfume. Grace.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Winter Hawks

Winter exposes the hawks to our sight. As I was walking around Lake Newport yesterday I saw something jumping from the ground leaping upward. I thought perhaps it was a dog, but as we, my dog and I, got closer we saw the form on top of the wall--a large bird, a hawk it became clear as we walked toward it. The hawk then flew over to a nearby tree (see inside the circle below).  As I was taking the picture on my iPhone, I looked away to fiddle with something and when I looked up, I thought he had flown off, but then I looked closer and he was still there blended with the brown tree branches and black shadows. 

Then he flew to a nearby tree where I could catch his profile. 

And after a bit, either in annoyance with us or with not finding prey, he flew off toward the lake. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks

Robert Macfarlane's 2015 book, Landmarks, was the most important and most absorbing book I read in 2016. A writer, traveler, and hiker, Macfarlane was compelled to take up his pen for Landmarks by his perusal of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, in which "a sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature."
"Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood.  The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, board band, bullet-point, celebrity, chartroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voice-mail
"When the head of children's dictionaries at OUP was asked why the decision had been taken to delete those 'nature words,' she explained that the dictionary needed to reflect the consensus experience of modern-day childhood. 'When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance,' she said. 'that was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed.' There is a realism in her response--but also an alarming acceptance of the idea that children might no longer see the seasons, or that the rural environment might be so unproblematically disposable. 
"The substitutions made in the dictionary--the outdoor and the natural being displaced by the indoor and the virtual--are a small but significant symptom of the simulated life we increasingly live."
Robert Macfarlane
From this opening, Macfarlane examines the life and work of nine landscape writers and naturalists, one chapter per writer, with a glossary attached to the end of each chapter of words or phrases in English, Gaelic, Welsh, and regional lexicons that describe detailed aspects of that landscape.

The types of lands covered are: flatlands--the moors of the Isle of Lewis; uplands--the mountains of Cairngorm Mountains of northeast Scotland; the inland waterlands of England; the coastlands of England; the northlands of Canada; the edge lands--vacant fields along the edges of London and its suburbs; the earthlands of England where one finds pebbles; and the woodlands--the forest of sequoias of California.

The underlying thesis is that if we forget or bury the words that we have for the world around us--a religious person would say, "the world that God has given us"--then we will lose our relationship to that world. Macfarlane does not seek to explore the consequences of that loss of connection. His book rather invites us to reconnect.

The glossaries bring to the surface the far more intimate relationship that our forebears had with their natural surroundings. To give some examples: snaw grimet--color of the ground when lying snow is partly melted (Shetland); scailp--cleft or fissure; sheltering place beneath a rock (Irish); glumag--deep pool in a river (Gaelic); fub--long withered grass on old pastures or meadows (Galloway); and na luin--fast-moving heat-haze on the moor (Gaelic).

Aside from stories and writings of the landscape hero or heroine of each chapter, Macfarlane points us to other literature or discoveries about the landscape in question, so that the book acts as an annotated bibliography--signposts if we would like to take up the journey.

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981), a lecturer in English, writer, and constant hiker of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland, which she wondrously describes in The Living Mountain.

I had the added pleasure of reading this book while spending a week in the southern end of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a stretch of seashore with few urbanized distractions. It was the perfect place. I could switch back and forth from watching the ocean and sun and water and poking around to identify the sand dune vegetation or pick up shells and pebbles, to reading about other landscapes written about in Macfarlane's beautiful and highly informative prose. (Keep a dictionary close at hand.)

Macfarlane's book not only opened up a new world of thinking about our relationship to God's universe.  It also helped me to see--to more easily apprehend the beauty offered to us outside when we escape, however briefly for a walk, from our virtual man-made confines.

Wind, Sun, Water

You can see that it's the wind that makes the water sparkle. Without the wind, the sun's reflection is a circumscribed circle of light. When the wind comes up, the sunlight is caught in the tops of the many waves racing across the water's surface.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Winter Tangles

Exposed in winter are the tangles of the vines, at least in Virginia, that make walking outside of paths difficult in my town's many forest pockets. The birds and animals find shelter in them.

Part of an overgrowth of pine trees bending toward the ground in a canopy over the path. 

A brown carpet soon to be green. 

Bird sanctuary--a 12-foot-tall tangle of old wood and large vines. 

Giant bushes and vines all wrapped around each other. In the fall bittersweet hangs down from a nearby tree whose branches are covered with vines.

So thick it almost creates an impenetrable shelter. Rabbits come out from these bushes in the early evening, scampering in grassy areas, their cottontail tails bouncing in the twilight.